PALLADIO, Andrea


PALLADIO, Andrea
(1508-1580)
   Andrea Palladio is best known for establishing an enduring tradition of classicism, not only in the Veneto during the High Renaissance but also through subsequent generations of classical architects who looked to the Palladian style for their architectural references. Probably born in Padua to a modest family, Andrea di Pietro della Gondola was initially trained as a stonecutter but moved to Vicenza, where he met the humanist scholar Giangiorgio Trissino. Trissino accepted Andrea di Pietro into his in-formal academy and renamed him "Palladio," after the name Pallas from the ancient pantheon. Through Trissino, Palladio was intro-duced to the writings of Vitruvius and traveled to Rome to study Ro-man architecture firsthand. Throughout his life, Palladio wrote guide-books to Roman buildings, illustrations to supplement Vitruvius's ancient treatise on architecture, and finally, his own book on architecture, titled / quattro libri dell'architettura, published in 1570. His book was devoted to both technical questions and the classical orders as well as to a discussion of classical buildings, including ancient do-mestic, civic, and religious architecture. He illustrates the book ex-tensively with his own drawings of classical buildings as well as his own architecture. It was this text, printed in many editions through the next several centuries, that helped disperse the Palladian style across Europe and America, as exemplified by the classicizing build-ings of Inigo Jones and Christopher Wren in 17th-century England and Thomas Jefferson's and other Neo-Classical structures in Washington, D.C., from the 18th century.
   Palladio constructed numerous palaces in Vicenza, over 40 villas in the surrounding countryside, and two major churches in nearby Venice. Because the Veneto was very lush and fertile but swampy, various land reclamation projects were sponsored throughout the Re-naissance to create more farmland for the increased population on the Italic Peninsula. This farmland was so expensive that agricultural pursuits came to be viewed as more appropriate for the wealthy class, and thus the idea of the "gentleman farmer" was born. This rural landowner then needed a home befitting his high social status, so the Renaissance villa was introduced. The villa had been fully developed in Roman antiquity and specifically adapted for upper-class life in the countryside, but during the Middle Ages villas were replaced by for-tified castles needed for the more politically unstable feudal age. The Renaissance villa was therefore modeled on those known from an-tiquity. Palladio's Villa Rotonda, also known as both the Villa Capra and the Villa Belvedere, is his most famous work. Constructed in the 1560s, the Villa Rotonda is a square building with an elevated porch on each of its four sides. The matching porches are supported by a row of six Ionic columns capped by a triangular pediment featuring sculpted figures in the center and on the corners of the pediment. This overall design recalls the Pantheon in Rome. The villa also has a dome, an architectural element reserved in the Early Renaissance for churches; however, Palladio probably saw the dome on Ancient Ro-man imperial homes and connected its domestic use to the Latin word domus.
   This careful study of classical antiquity can also be seen in his church of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, built beginning in 1565. Here Palladio created a traditional basilica-plan church, also called a Latin-cross plan, but with a taller nave flanked by shorter side aisles, much like Leon Battista Alberti's church of Sant'Andrea in Mantua, built in 1470. While the upper register of Alberti's façade was never completed, Palladio successfully resolved the design problem of this height variance by creating the look of two façades, one superim-posed upon the other and linked together to unify the front. The cen-ter of the façade features a tall portico with four engaged colossal half-columns that support a triangular pediment. A dome looms be-hind the pediment, marking the crossing of the church, where the nave meets the side aisles in the interior. The interior of the church continues with similar half-columns attached in clusters to the side walls of the nave, creating a very sculptural colonnade of the massive compounded columns needed to support the dome. The nave ceiling has a barrel vault modified with slight groins to better direct the weight through the compounded columns rather than over the arches of the nave colonnade.
   One of Palladio's final commissions was for the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza, commissioned in 1580 by the Accademia Olimpica as a permanent site for their productions. Palladio was one of the founders of the Academy, and had studied Ancient Roman theater design in both the writings of Vitruvius and in the nearby ruins of the Ancient Roman Teatro Berga in Vicenza. Palladio died after creating the ini-tial designs for the theater, and the stage was then completed by his student Vincenzo Scamozzi, in keeping with classical precedent. Completed in 1585 and used for the first time in a performance of Sophocles's Oedipus the King, the building is important today as the oldest surviving Renaissance stage. Thus, all three of these buildings represent Palladio's interests in classical antiquity; more importantly, they reveal his ability to adapt classical principles to Renaissance needs in a harmonious and beautiful way.

Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. . 2008.

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